“This is an important message from NCO Financial…”

That is about as much of the robo-message that I listen to before hitting the delete button on the answering machine.

Before you get the wrong idea, I am not a deadbeat. That is my girlfriend.

I kid. She is not a deadbeat either, but when she received a bogus bill from a doctor whom she no longer visits, she did the right thing and contacted the office for clarification. When she was not satisfied with the answer, she decided — and I urged her — not to pay the bill. We crafted a letter and sent it to the office informing them why we objected to the charge.

That was over two years ago. NCO Financial has been leaving the same robo-message on our answering machine nearly every other week ever since.

Long story, short: It was December of 2007 when she decided to take a job with another employer. Since her health insurance would change, she did the responsible thing and contacted the doctor’s office to get a final bill from them, which she then promptly paid. Some time later — in 2009 (note the year) — she received an invoice from the doctor’s office for a $100 charge that was rejected by her previous insurer. After researching this problem, she learned the doctor’s office had originally submitted the charge against an old, incorrect policy number — a problem she had corrected once before. So the insurer rejected the claim and promptly informed the doctor’s office. But the office sat on this for months and then tried to go back to the patient for reimbursement — over a year later.

Normally, this would not be a problem. The doctor performed a service and deserved to be paid. But there was a kicker to this. My girlfriend’s health insurance at that time included a FlexSpend health benefits card, which allowed her to pay for doctor visits, prescriptions, OTC meds and more. Had the doctor’s office correctly billed her at the time she requested, she could have simply paid with the card. And there is still some question as to whether the charge was in fact paid by the correct policy number.

The office made the mistake, yet they wanted to have my girlfriend pay out of her pocket. So we called bullshit on that and wrote a letter to the doctor’s office stating the charge would not be paid for the stated reason (I should point out here that the office manager — who previously fucked up scheduling appointments at an an inconvenience to patients — was a real joy to my girlfriend on multiple occasions. She had zero customer service skills and she also billed the wrong policy number in the past as well). So her incompetence and nastiness came with a price. Besides, any competent doctor can afford to eat a one-time $100 charge. I know. I work for some. If they can’t afford to eat the charge, they should hire competent administrators in the first place.

Yet people fear a government takeover of healthcare.

So here it is, the end of two-thousand-and-fucking-ten and I still come home to messages from NCO Financial every week or so. The funny thing is, if you google this shakedown company, you find all sorts of threads about how to avoid having your credit score trashed — and you have to pay for their advice.

Well, I don’t think one $100 disputed charge is going to trash a credit history that shows prompt payment of mortgage, credit card and utility bills. The line of credit is near a zero balance and the car has been paid off. Seeing as we don’t need to buy a second home or another car in the near future, we are rolling the dice on this. At worst, this would end up coming off her credit rating after seven years anyway (three down, four to go).

All the company’s efforts have resulted in a reflexive reaction on my part when I come home and see the answering machine light on. Last week, I actually deleted a message before I listened to it. I just assumed it was going to be NCO Financial. So if someone out there is waiting for a call back, I apologize.

Now go away, NCO Financial, or I shall taunt you a second time.

Tom Long is one-third of the seldom heard Chicago band The Ethyl Mermen. The name Tom Long can be found in the dictionary, Baseball Encyclopedia and a pub in Ireland. Tom Long is not affiliated with any other Tom Long; he won the rights to use his own name after prevailing in a three-way game of Jan-ken-pon by choosing "dynamite!" No Toms were harmed in the making of this blog.

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